The ‘Meaning’ of Life

The ‘Meaning’ of Life

life: the condition which distinguishes active animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, functional activity, and continual change preceding death…

(Oxford English Reference Dictionary (2002))

Life has so many definitions. For some, a breeze, others, a constant battle for survival. But why do so many people long for ‘meaning’ in their lives, and what do they mean by this? Meaning of your life to you? Meaning of your life to others? Meaning of life in general to all people?

Here’s my Haiku on Being again, in case you missed it:

Haiku on Being

To be,

It seems to me,

Is as subjective,

As not to be,

Isn’t.

(freewillisntfree.com)

Creatures unburdened by consciousness don’t need meaning, my cat probably lives in a more blissful contentment than any human. Hamlet said ‘conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’. Consciousness is an eternal torment for some, as whilst giving us the capacity for diverse positive emotions, it also provides bounteous mechanisms for the profoundly negative. To consider one’s own internal existence is an absolutely subjective experience, with an infinite amount of variables from the neurotransmitters in the nervous system to the country we were born into, the religion we were fed from infancy, the places we visit in our lives, etcetera, all influencing our overall ‘meaning’ of life.  It’s a shame in my view, that people identify with each other by the similarities they share, rather than differences, so communities can inevitably become isolated and even alienated. This is just the natural tribal nature of man, but it gives rise to irrational views and acts such as nationalism, racism, fascism, religious extremism (not by any means restricted to Islam), and the list goes on, and on.

My point is that the more divided into separate groups the human race becomes, or the more people associate frankly minor differences with negative connotations, surely the more fear and hatred and war will prevail around the world. You might say I’m stating the obvious, all you have to do is look back through the history of civilisation to find enough blood spilled to fill the Mediterranean, but if it’s so obvious then why aren’t we learning from it yet? Is it the greed and power-hunger of the higher echelons? That certainly can’t help. The unwillingness of many religious groups to ‘agree to disagree’? Undoubtedly another hindrance of progress. But these are only my opinions, based on a wholly subjective existence, I just think that civilised discussion on these themes is absolutely crucial if communities are to share any mutual understanding and respect. Respect is earned, I’m sure we can all agree on that. As always dear reader, your responses are encouraged, discussion is necessary, and your opinions are as valid as mine.

L

An Unweeded Garden

An Unweeded Garden

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the everlasting had not fix’d

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

(Hamlet, Shakespeare)

In a way, Hamlet saved my life. When I read Hamlet or see it performed, the extremes of anguish and despair seem to en-cloak my heart in empathy. If you suffer from depression and haven’t seen Hamlet performed on stage, I really can’t recommend it enough. I don’t know if Shakespeare was a depressive, but he was definitely a genius, and he seems to represent depression in words better than anyone else I’ve come across in literature or music. This is from around 413 years ago, and I still wish I could cry like a normal person when I read it. Why don’t people write tragedies any more? Life is so often tragic, the world is just as tragic now as it was then, so why does Hollywood demand optimism? Some European films have come close to tragedy, but nothing quite as sublime as Shakespeare, Marlowe or Webster (my personal favourites). If anyone can recommend me any truly tragic movies, please don’t hesitate.

Anyway, I was going to explain how Shakespeare, and particularly Hamlet saved, or at least changed my life. I’ve tried to write songs off and on for the whole of my depressed adult life. It is nothing other than torture though, when one has such desperation to find words to describe their mind’s life, and cannot gain any confidence in, or satisfaction from what is written. I picked up the Works of Shakespeare for some poetic inspiration. Boy was I inspired, I found impossible brilliance in the Sonnets, and just flicked back a few pages to feed a growing curiosity. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ‘Oh, I’ve heard of Hamlet’, I thought, ‘I’ll just read the first act and see what it’s like’. I was hooked before Hamlet even appears, but more so after his first words of the play, an under the breath utterance of retort against Claudius’ patronising words: ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind’ (Act I Sc II). Not to mention the following speech to his Mother on his profound grief for his Father’s death. Hamlet’s Mother has the cheek to ask him of his grief ‘why seems it so particular with thee?’, his response is beautiful:

Seems, madam! nay, it is; I know not seems.

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black,

Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,

No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,

Nor the dejected ‘haviour of the visage,

Together with all forms, moods, shows of grief,

That can denote me truly: these, indeed, seem;

For they are actions that a man might play:

But I have that within which passeth show;

These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

(Act I Scene II)

This brilliance is followed hard upon by the astounding soliloquy quoted briefly above to open this post.Look how I’m being pulled by different threads of thought and inspiration, and not getting to the point, blame the bard. The point is that by the time I had finished reading this sublime tragedy, I knew that I wanted to study English. Now that might not sound like a big deal to you, but to me dear reader, it was a new direction that wasn’t down, and if I hadn’t changed direction I’m not sure how much further I had to fall, so there’s how the play-write may have saved my life. My only disappointment with the English study so far: not enough tragedy. But then again, my mind is tragic enough as it is.

As always, dear reader, your thoughts and responses are welcome and encouraged. Maybe you’ve had a similar epiphany on something completely different, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading.

L